Updated: Oct 2
Social groups provide a supportive environment for children who have trouble interacting with peers to experience success in social situations. Social challenges may stem from difficulties in areas such as sensory or emotional regulation, anxiety, attention, and social communication. Children may participate in social groups at school as part of an IEP, or at a clinic that offers a group with peers of similar ages and needs. Given facilitation from therapists and a small group size, children can develop social skills that will benefit their self esteem, ability to form friendships, and engagement in school and extracurricular activities. Below are four ways a child may benefit from participation in a play-based social group.
Perspective taking: In a social group, children have opportunities to develop social cognition, or the ability to think about others and understand their intentions, feelings, and experiences. Children are prompted to tune into their peers' nonverbal communication, such as facial expression and body positioning. Children develop empathy by reflecting on peers' emotional responses and offering comfort.
Body awareness: Therapists can assist children in navigating an environment with peers while maintaining safety and awareness of their body in space. Children learn to take in visual information in order to position themselves appropriately in relation to peers. They learn how to monitor intensity of movement around peers, for example to use the right amount of force in a game of tag.
Problem solving: Children in social groups develop flexibility and learn how to communicate with their peers to resolve conflicts. They have opportunities to communicate around turn-taking, sharing materials, and planning activities. Children who typically prefer to control the play receive support in bridging their ideas with those of their peers to reach a shared plan.
Self-esteem: Most importantly, social groups provide children with opportunities for social success. Given facilitation as needed in their areas of challenge, children are able to form meaningful relationships and have positive experiences with peers, something that may be rare for them in other environments. This is extremely valuable to a child's self-esteem, and increases their comfort in initiating social interactions outside of the social group.
Social groups provide opportunities for children to develop skills in a number of essential developmental areas. Kick Start Pediatric Therapy Network's social groups are facilitated by occupational therapists, speech-language therapists, social workers, and developmental therapists. Children are placed in groups based on their age and developmental profile. If you believe your child would benefit from a social group and are interested in learning more about group availability, COVID-19 safety procedures, and therapeutic benefits, please contact Erika Larson (Clinical Director Kick Start PTN; Erika@Kickstartptn.com)